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The “right to free movement”

The British Empire was a source of large-scale migrations to satisfy labour markets.

The British Empire was a source of large-scale migrations to satisfy labour markets.

There have been recent signs of a change of tone in the Labour leadership on the question of freedom of movement. Some have opposed any sort of controls but in recent months John McDonnell has spoken of “managed migration” and Keir Starmer has said that when it comes to freedom of movement within the single market we should be “open to adjustments”. It is time to dig a bit deeper into the underlying assumptions.

Where do rights come from?

Is there a right to free movement across national boundaries? The simple answer is that it depends where you live. If you live in the EU there is such a right because it is established by law. If you live in most other parts of the world there is no such right. People acting as if they had such a right will quickly be reminded of the local regulations.

All of which highlights the viewpoint of Jeremy Bentham, that “leathery-tongued oracle of the ordinary bourgeois intelligence” (Marx), who said that talk of natural human rights was “nonsense on stilts”. It is easy to dismiss Bentham on the grounds of the crudity of his utilitarian philosophy but did he have a point? To be clear, Bentham said a right is

the child of law; from real law come real rights; but from imaginary laws, from ‘law of nature,’ come imaginary rights.…Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible  rights, rhetorical nonsense, nonsense on stilts.”

What we can take from this is that human rights are a human creation and are neither endowed by nature or some divine force. We have rights but only insofar as we make them. This does not mean that there are no human rights but rather that they cannot be imported into politics as something “given” by nature.

Our rights may be enshrined in law, but laws too evolve. It makes sense to demand as a right things which may not yet be recognised by law as such. The law realises rights but it doesn’t originate them. If there were not strong social pressures for given rights to be recognised then they would not become a matter of law. But even with this proviso it remains that rights arise and develop in the process of social evolution. They are not originated by ahistorical moral “principles” any more than they are originated by law.

Stone age man did not have a right to “free school education” or access to a “free at the point of delivery health care system” for obvious reasons. So first, rights depend on real possibilities. Second, they depend on general expectations of at least one significant group in society.

The historical nature of rights does not imply that there are no objective standards. Rather it makes clear that those standards are products of societal evolution and are all the more solidly established for that – rather than a spurious justification in terms of supposed inherent characteristics of the human species.

Migration is a fact of human existence

Human migration is as old as human existence. The “out of Africa” view of human origins is now well established and mass migration ever since is well documented. The continuous arrival of migrant populations in what is now the UK over the last 1600 years is printed in our historical record. Even after the rise of modern European nation states from the 16th century, migration has still been a significant phenomenon especially, as a result of empire and the population movements it promoted in the search for cheap labour.

There are different reasons for mass population movement which can be broadly classified into forced migration (refugees) and free movement where people move because of better opportunities to be found elsewhere. These different causes for movement require different considerations. Even if there is sometimes a grey area between them, the broad distinction still holds. It is only the latter that should be considered in a discussion of free movement. People fleeing war and persecution are not moving freely.

The UN Fund for Population Activities (UNPFA) estimates that currently 3.4% of the world’s population lives in countries other than their countries of origin. That amounts to 243 million people. It also says that the motivation in the majority of cases is the search for better life opportunities and standard of living. At the same time, those fleeing from war and oppression constitute a significant minority of the total. People who believe that migration does not need to be managed should reflect on the number of 243 million.

So what about the “right to free movement”?

The nomadic populations of Central Asia did not burst out across the world because they had the right to do so. The Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Vikings did not establish themselves here on the basis of such a right. These populations moved because they could and jurisdictions to which they migrated were established on the basis of force in more or less the same way as they would extend their domains through migration.

If such historical movements had indeed established a right then the colonial adventures of the twentieth century would have been fully justified. The fact that most of us do not consider them to be so indicates that we have to judge things by the historical circumstances of the time in which they take place. What seems normal in one set of historical conditions ceases to be so in entirely different conditions.

All of this is very different in the context of modern national states.

We, like people in similar societies, now seek to plan social provision for health, housing education and various social services. Does this mean than anyone outside our social context has the right to locate here and exercise some general right to that provision irrespective of the possible scale of that demand? It is not a question of immigrants taking out more than they put in. It is well attested that for a variety of reasons, overall immigrants contribute more per capita than the indigenous population. It is rather that (1) resources and the infrastructure to deliver them takes time to develop and cannot be turned on instantly – it requires planning, (2) the pressure of immigration falls most heavily on the poorest sections of the population and (3) rapid, unmanaged, large-scale population changes can cause social disruption of a more or less serious kind.

If the “principle” of free movement were sacrosanct then would it not include the rights of the rich to pitch up with their millions and buy up local resources e.g. housing? And what do we care about the brain drain from the poorer countries? Also does this so-called principle apply to the whole world or just the EU?

It should noted also that not only is world population still increasing unsustainably alongside extreme international inequality but modern transport has become more rapid, reliable and cheaper than ever before.

This is the setting for thinking about patterns of large-scale migration. A long historical process has brought us to the point of thinking about emergent human rights, democracy and a socialist alternative to present society. Socialists, as least those of them who think that socialism is something beyond managed capitalism, think that a society is possible in which people can democratically plan resources for the benefit of all and that most of the current deep recurrent problems of inequality and hijacking of social processes for private profit can be overcome by a different and rationally planned social order. In that context large-scale unmanaged migration could be one among many factors threatening the stability of any government trying to set its country on a socialist, or even social democratic, course.

Humanist/Liberal ideals can mask private interests

The declaration of universal rights is often an expression of narrower interests. The French Revolution’s declaration of the universal rights of man applied only to men. French women didn’t get the vote until 150 years later. The American declaration of man’s inalienable rights did not apply to blacks.

Considerable scepticism is therefore appropriate when humanistic/liberal ideals are taken as a touchstone for socialist views. It can lead to great confusion. What sense does it make to denounce free market ideology while defending the unplanned and unregulated movement of labour to serve the needs of that market?

It makes no sense to support planning of social resources for housing, education and health and to say at the same time that populations around the world, for whom we cannot plan, have unquestionable right to migrate, with no controls, to take avail themselves of that provision.

It makes no sense to talk about solidarity and at the same time to allow unplanned population movements which have the potential to be on a socially disruptive scale and to hit the poorest in society hardest.

To my knowledge, people asserting an absolute right to migration at any time have not addressed these points. They rely instead on vaguely defined human rights and alleged ethical principles (never fully articulated or defended). Those advocating unmanaged migration must attempt to address the questions and criticisms put to them if their view is to have any real  substance.

There is no sensible ahistorical argument for human rights. I cannot see how a rational socialist argument can lead to any other conclusion than that the resources available to society need to be managed for the general good (including the general good of other societies across the globe). Managing those resources and their take-up evidently includes the management of population movements across borders.


  1. John Penney says:

    An important article – challenging the wooly-minded feel-good liberalism that for too many on the Left has entirely replaced the traditional core socialist principle that the various forms of free enterprise capitalism, particularly contemporary globalist neoliberalism, can only be effectively challenged ideologically and in practice by the replacement of the free play of market forces, by democratic Left Government state directed comprehensive Economic planning and overall direction.

    This is as relevant to the key issue of domestic labour supply (with its wide periphery of directly related support issues, from housing , to education , to Welfare provision), as it is to the need for planning and control of capital flows, and the import and export of goods and services, and our economic sectoral mix and regional economic policy.

    Only a Left which over the last 30 years of neoliberal hegemony has lost touch with the basic socialist concept of comprehensive economic planning and direction, could have collapsed so utterly into a faux “Left agenda” on labour supply and migration which , in the pursuit of the utterly unworkable utopian liberalism of ” absolutely everyone is welcome here” , has actually ended up merely supporting a core mechanism for the exploitation of the working classes across Europe and beyond – ie, total free movement of labour, and its intended outcome , unlimited labour supply – one of the vital “four capitalist freedoms” on which the modern EU is built.

  2. C MacMackin says:

    I’m not particularly attached to the idea of free movement and I agree that it can pose a problem for socialist planning. However, one inconsistency I run up against here is internal migration. For example, council housing is built in the UK by local authorities. However, there is free movement of people within the UK, which could make it difficult for certain local authorities to plan for adequate housing. This problem becomes even worse in federal countries; in Canada, for example, most of the welfare state and a good deal of economic policy is handled by the provinces, between which there is free movement. Similar issues exist with Scotland and Wales here. If what you say is true, how can we possibly hope to have a socialist economy in a country where any substantial power is devolved to regional or local authorities?

    One response to this could be to say that within a country there will be relatively little net migration, as the quality of life is comparable between different regions. Obviously this isn’t strictly true under capitalism, but presumably economic policy could be tailored to alleviate such inequalities under socialism (or even decent social democracy). However, what about other countries with similar qualities of life, then? While there may not be coordinated policy to ensure common living standards, they nonetheless exist and continue to do so for extended periods of time. Would it then be justified to have bilateral free-movement treaties?

    Generally this was a good article and a useful impetus to discussion. These questions aren’t meant to take away from that. I’m just raising some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for the past few months and am interested to see what responses I’ll get.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Yes the internal migration is a point one immediately thinks about in this context. I had wanted, to include something on this but the piece was already long enough.

      Essentially I think that the point is that travelling within a single jurisdiction, while not without its problems, is a completely different to travelling across jurisdictions. In general the great majority of people moving domicile within the UK plan their move, arrange housing, secure jobs, and understand local customs, speak English, and know their way through the systems they have to deal with. Also they vacate a dwelling in order to move to another one and already have such things as a social security number. This can be very different in the case of immigrants who arrive with few or none of these factors.

      I am not relying on a worst case scenario or caricaturing all immigrants. Some come with jobs secured, housing arranged, have knowledge of UK officialdom and may even speak better English than many of the locals. I don’t question that because my case is not anti-immigration. My case is only that immigration covers a very wide category of cases and problems and that it makes little sense to claim that its quantity and quality is something that should in no way concern social regulators and planners. I believe that this is now increasingly recognised on the left but that there are many still stuck in the simplistic ideological rut of thinking that since racists want immigration controls to concede that they are, in some form necessary, is to give in to racism.

    2. John Penney says:

      “internal migration” is a very important issue in the UK economy – but not in the same way as the issue of unlimited labour supply arising from total freedom of movement across the EU.

      At present, and for the last 40 years at least of a complete failure by any government, since the half-hearted attempts of the first 1964 Wilson government, to undertake serious strategic regional planning, a long term trend is for the entire UK population to be decanting Southwards – towards the UK South East component of the EU “Golden Triangle” of sustained economic growth.

      The consequences of uncontrolled, unplanned, market driven London and South East centric growth – and ever increasing economic devastation North of Cambridge (OK, with a few , very sectorally partial, growth “hotspots ” in places like Manchester , Leeds, and Edinburgh), is that the quality of life in the South East, with its congestion and floodplain built housing bubbles, is crap, and in most of the Northern regions economic decline will continue ever downwards.

      It is not therefore the job of a Left government to introduce Soviet style “internal passporting” and labour direction – but to Planlong term for a sectorally and regionally balanced economy which revitalises the dying regions , and makes the continued decanting of the UK population ever Southwards, unnecessary.

  3. SB says:

    This is a very scary argument – not the stuff about migration, but the very principle it starts with. “There is no such thing as natural rights – they are purely a human creation.”

    What that boils down to is that some humans have the power to create rights for others – or withdraw them. It means the majority rule over the minority, or the aristocracy over the peasants. It means all rights, including the right to life and liberty, can be taken away. It means the Antebellum South, or even worse.

    I sincerely hope David Pavett doesn’t mean that.

  4. Bazza says:

    Yes and as I said at my last branch meeting – the World seems in chaos and people are crying out for the managing of systems.
    I am not an open door liberal – oh come all ye sex traffickers, criminal gangs etc.
    I am not a free market Neo-Liberal – the free movement of labour serves only the free movement of capital whilst putting pressure on wages, host countries and as the New Left Review argued “robbing” (my words) countries like Bulgaria of half its population by 2020.
    And perhaps we need to control both.
    Of course whilst showing compassion to refugees in my own small way I have tried to to contribute to the debate by suggesting a type of socialist management: a triple lock on migration (a) say 10% or so of the adult working population (which is quite generous) but this is not set in stone (b) migration adjustment funds for councils (which is now Labour policy I believe) and (c) trade unionise migrant workers (and why not refugees?) and what are migrants and refugees but the unorganised who like us all have to sell their labour to survive.
    I also think people are sick of wealth inequalities and everything being about profit, money, and the bloody market (markets is people usually greedy hedge funds and speculators etc.).
    Other comments are right, a kind of liberal feel good quality or I would say political purity has taken over some of the left.
    We need to remember socialism should always be about good management and power for working people.
    Good we are talking about this now and not leaving the field to the Right Wing outside of Labour.

  5. David Pavett says:

    I am grateful for the responses so far. However, I would also be grateful if someone who agrees with the view that there should be no management of population flow across borders and therefore no control of immigration would say what he or she thinks is wrong with the reasoning of my piece and the responses so far.

  6. Karl Stewart says:

    Thanks for the article. A well-thought out and reasoned argument. And an important issue, which the left does need to have a robust policy on.

    What I don’t see, however, is any detail beyond your call for inward migration into the UK to be ‘managed’.

    How exactly do you propose to manage entry?

    Do you advocate a maximum number of entrants per year for example? Or different regulations for people depending on their nation of origin?

    If the former, what do you do when the ‘quota’ has been reached? Lock down the border completely? Is that practical?

    If it’s the latter, by what criteria would the different ‘nations of origin’ be classified?

    So, those couple of questions occur to me initially and I’d be interested in your thoughts on those?

    1. David Pavett says:

      Thanks for the response.

      First I think that we have to make a clear distinction between refugees and those seeking to improve their opportunities/standard of living. I am only discussing the second case here. Different criteria are required for both.

      i think that once the need for some sort of management is recognised their can be a discussion on different ways of doing this. Quotas are usually arbitrary and unworkable (as we have seen). My own non-expert view would be that permission to stay beyond a normal visitors period should only be given when the person concerned and or their prospective employer can show that they have employment arranged and that this is in an area where it is difficult to impossible to find UK applicants who can do the work (for which all the normal conditions of wages and employment conditions should apply). It should also be demonstrated that (decent) accommodation has been arranged. On that basis a work permit and permission to stay could be granted. This is along the lines of the US/Australian employment-based Green Card system.

      What has to be avoided is the situation which a TU activist in my Labour Party branch told me about. He came across 6 immigrants using a garage to sleep in (in shifts) in between working for below the minimum wage in appalling conditions. One way to reduce that is with stronger trade unions but we have to recognised that TUs in the UK are far from strong enough to do the whole job.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      David’s response was a good one. I thought I might provide a case study by describing Canada’s immigration system. Keep in mind that this is largely something I have learned about through immigrant friends and not something I have studied extensively myself.

      In Canada, immigrants are divided into 3 streams: refugees, family members, and everyone else. As David says, considerations for refugees are different and would need to be discussed elsewhere. Canada makes it quite easy for family of those who are already permanent residents to immigrate and I think they are immediately granted permanent residency. I think there may be some quota here, although I’m not certain what it is and how it is applied.

      For most other immigration, we use a points-based system and grant succesful applicants permanent residency. People score points based on criteria such as being able to speak English or French, having skills which are in demand, having a job lined up, have already been living in Canada under a different visa, plan to invest, etc. Country of origin is not a factor. For this reason, the current points-based system, introduced in the 1970s, is seen as a progressive measure compared to the previous one which largely restricted immigration to Europeans. From what I have heard, to get in under this stream you basically need to have secured a job in advance or to have sufficient savings to be able to live off of indefinitely. I think it may be possible to get in if you plan to start a business, as well. Immigration under this system is often conditional upon applicants living in certain regions until the get citizenship. This is to try to prevent all of them from settling in a few big cities and counteract emmigration from poorer parts of the country. I suspect that this wouldn’t hold up to a Supreme Court challenge, though, as it would violate the right to free movement internally within Canada which is granted in our constitution, and such rights apply to anyone on Canadian soil (not just citizens).

      There are a few other, minor, streams of immigration as well. There is one for highly specialised professionals (scientists mainly, I think) who will be living in the country for a few years on a contract. There is one for student visas, which can also be extended for a few years as a work visa and then offers the chance to apply for permanent residency. There is the notorious temporary foreign worker program which is supposed to allow companies to bring in employees for a specified time period if there is a shortage of people with those skills locally. It has been much abused in order to drive down wages and I think has been suspended as a result. Finally, I think there was a pilot program to allow people in if they brought in certain (large) ammounts of money to invest locally, although I don’t know what became of that.

      I certainly don’t claim that Canada should, in every way, serve as a model for a socialist immigration system, but it does provide a case-study of some of the mechanisms which are available.

      Much of this could be adapted to a socialist context quite easily. Economic planners would have some idea of what skills are needed and could also be given information about the skills of those applying. Plans could be adjusted somewhat to try to accommodate applications to immigrate as best as possible. Where this is not possible (and I’m under no illusions that it always would be), priority could be given to those with family in the country, able to speak the local language, etc. Unless someone is only intending to live in the country on a short-term contract or as a student, I tend to think that permanent residency should be offered rather than just a fixed-term visa. Even when a non-permanent visa is granted, pathways could exist to place them at the front of the queue to upgrade to permanent residency.

  7. James Martin says:

    Interesting article, but I can’t help but think it has entirely missed the current political context and debate on ‘free movement’.

    First, it is currently connected to the EU, and in many ways for certain sections of what could be termed the ‘liberal left’ that is where it stops. Free movement for (mainly) white Europeans but not for (mainly) non-white non-EU populations with often far more connections to the UK (as a result of empire) is in many ways a peculiarly racist position and an ironic one considering the horror those advocating it have at being seen as racist.

    Free movement in an EU setting should also be judged in relation to whether it actually benefits workers or capitalists, and the answer is the latter, with the added problem that it risks taking on the role of the ‘reserve army of unemployed’ in relation to wages and undercutting trade union organisation (although the writings of Marx and Engels around the impact of mass Irish immigration on undermining the political power of the labour movement are relevant here).

    But there is also another key issue that needs addressing, which is the position of much of the British left (including the far left) that *any* immigration controls are by their very nature racist, and the reason this is particularly important to counter is that I strongly suspect that this is at heart the reasons underlying Corbyn’s position.

    In many respects the no immigration controls argument is idealism, and something that confuses tactics needed now by socialists in a capitalist world with what we would want in a socialist world where such a thing could be envisaged. It is why I think that Corbyn just doesn’t ‘get’ immigration worries, and why his position is a weak point for us in many working class areas outside of London in particular where immigration concerns are now very much framed around jobs and housing rather then the racism and ‘cultural protectionism’ of the far right in the past. How often do we hear socialists accuse anyone who raises concerns about immigration of racism or xenophobia when often they are not guilty of either of these things?

    And the failure of the left to frame a debate around immigration that accepts that UK net immigration numbers of a million or so every few years is simply not sustainable even if more money is thrown at it, which in turn means that the left has been unable to make inroads in many working class communities when talking about the benefits of immigration in general and the need to accept more refugees.

    I should point out that I live in a part of Lancashire that is 40% asian, and with those numbers split between Muslim and Hindu communities. It also also between 5/10% Polish judging by the numbers of Polish kids in my lad’s primary school, and I like that, I like the fact that in my area at least people rub along quite happily, I like the fact that he has lots of friends from many different cultures and races in the way I couldn’t have at his age. But it does worry me when a third of kids in my lad’s class have English as a second language(including a great many Asian kids) as it shows that the Asian populations are not a second or third generation legacy of the managed migration of the 60s and 70s for the thousands of cotton industry jobs that existed then, that they are being replaced by new migrants when the jobs no longer exist to absorb and integrate them – and the result of that is fragmentation and the lack of a working class and trade union unifying leveller that once existed as a result of the jobs based migration. And that in turn means that I do fear for community cohesion.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Thanks for the response – all points that need to be discussed.

      1. The different meanings of “liberal” (economic and social) coincide on this question. Social liberals believe that individuals have a right to live where ever they choose (even if few actually have the ability or means to do so). Economic liberals think that there should be a free market in every commodity including labour power.

      2. I think that the argument that free movement in the EU is racist because the population is overwhelmingly white is not serious. I am not a defender of free movement but if it is going to be practised in an economic area such as the single market then it will obviously apply to the people in that area. The African Union is taking steps towards free movement between its member states. That will apply to people who happen to be overwhelmingly black.

      3. You argue that free movement in the EU mainly benefits capitalists. That was one of my points too (it internationalises the reserve army of the unemployed).

      4. I agree with you also when you say say it is necessary to counter the view that any immigration control whatsoever is inherently racist. I think that was the main brunt of my argument.

      5. You say that the “no immigration controls” position is idealist (in the philosophical sense). Again I think that was the underlying theme of my piece in which I argued for a historical materialist analysis of the concept of rights. And yes, Corbyn’s position is idealist (in the philosophical sense). I fully share your concerns about this.

      Finally I concur with your remaining points which, it seems to me, are fully consistent with the case I made. So I am puzzled as to why you think I have “entirely missed the current political context and debate on ‘free movement’”.

      1. John Penney says:

        Yes indeed , David ; James merely repeats many of the points you, myself, and others, have made on the thorny immigration/labour supply issue , many times before , on this site , but then claims your piece has “missed the current political context”.

        I think it isn’t too much to ask James and others to take into account also the many other supporting posts those of us arguing for a return to the socialist basics, have made across many threads on Left Forward – ie, for a revived , Left , interventionist, planned economy, approach to the issue of immigration, alongside your more broad historical argument here. Otherwise we will be repeating every argument to exhaustion, without adding something new (as you latest piece indeed does).

        Like you, I am intrigued at the utter lack of any Left counter argument, either to your specific article here, or whenever we have argued for a radical shift in the Left approach to the , usually unchallenged, liberal shibboleth of total free movement rights /unlimited immigration. It almost seems , perish the thought, that most Left socialists are confident to mouth the various Left ideological narrative slogans – on any standard issue – but utterly unconfident away from that small ideological bubble and its pre-cooked standard “answers” .

        That ideological and small sect organisational bubble has therefore become a deadly political trap for the left today in a situation of societal turmoil , no longer a haven from the harsh realities of the 30 year neoliberal hegemony .

  8. Bazza says:

    Yes John, I would argue the greatest victory of Neo-Liberalsm was to stop the Left from dreaming.
    But thankfully for some of us they have utterly failed.
    In my case the poverty was too deep, the imagination too strong, the willingness to read and think a pleasure,empathy, reflection and the love of diverse working humanity also too strong.
    I care about working people in the UK and everywhere.
    But I feel almost in a minority amongst socialists; I am good on the practicalities of socialist planning and practice plus forward planning.
    I think on the Left there are too many Tin Pot Lenins who have all the answers and are so certain whilst I am always uncertain, happy to be questioned and modest.
    “Always be humble and kind” and things are getting really serious in the World and as Rosa Luxemburg felt; the best thing that we can all bring to the table is our independent critical thinking.
    This has been a very important discussion.
    Yours in international solidarity!

  9. David Pavett says:

    The failure of anyone clearly supporting the concept of free movement (either in the restricted view of EU free movement or on a general basis) is, in my view, a solid indicator of the lack of substance to their arguments. It is not as if this was a side issue.

    I avoided direct reference to Jeremy Corbyn’s views in the article so as not to seem unnecessarily provocative. But his views are clearly on the abstract/idealist side of the debate which I have called into question. How is it that neither he nor anyone who supports his views has stepped forward to explain the issue from their perspective?

    The fact is that Labour is clearly divided on the issue. Labour right-wingers and centrists ten to argue that we must have immigration controls because that is what the electorate demand (i.e. a position with no principle). Labour left-wingers tend to argue that even considering managing immigration is a concession to racism (because they fail understand that the fact that one’s opponents have raised an issue does not prove that it is not a real issue).

    Here we have tried to discuss the issue in a careful way and have had a good discussion. The problem is the complete failure of those with a Corbyn-like view to step up to the plate.

    I find this very worrying. It is not just the immigration issue but a whole gamut of issues on which either the party is pulling in different directions or its direction is totally unclear.

    An attempt to move things in a left direction which is not more substantial than this cannot ultimately succeed. The forces ranged against it are to strong for that. If it is not clear what it stands for and if it is unable to spell out its case and possible pathways to achieving its goals then there is no chance of winning the battle. So far we gave had the unexpected rise of a left-winger to party leadership but it was on the basis of a feeling that something was wrong and even rotten in the old way of doing things. I has not been based on any common ideas of where we want to go and how we want to get there.

    If this doesn’t change then even if every MP was re-selected and returned 100% Corbyn supporters the project of a left turn would still fail. Even if a government were to be elected with such a team the project would still fail. Just think Latin America.

    Socialism without democracy and informed discussion is bound to fail because it is a contradiction in terms. Think of the Soviet experience.

    Are we going to move beyond the vague slogans to an well considered programme based on clear analyses of our problems. Will the Labour Party really open itself to democratic discussion rather than wheeling and dealing at the top? Think of Trident. I don’t know but I feel that the signs so far are not good. This website is Corbyn supporting. It has rallied support for left-wingers on the NEC many of whom contribute to this website. So, to repeat, how is it that not a single member of the Corbyn team, not a single member of the NEC, and not a single member of the leadership of Momentum could find the time to take part in the discussion of this important issue?

    Instead we get the silent treatment and that has been my constant experience when tricky or difficult issues are raised. That is not democracy.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      Sadly, this is all true. In fact, we aren’t even at the level of discourse seen in Latin America. Despite all of the extremely unhealthy tendancies seen in those governments, there have always been minorities within and outside of them which have seen the need for a more democratic, well-thought-out form of politics and who have advanced concrete ideas. We are nowhere near that level of discussion. If by some miracle Corbyn does get elected like this, he will either end up causing economic chaos, be forced from power almost immediately, or be forced into implementing neoliberalism while trying to claim that there are some left-wing features to it (like Syriza has been doing).

      1. John Penney says:

        I’m afraid your gloomy prognosis is currently absolutely guaranteed, C. Mac. A “insurgent Left” movement that thinks it can establish a “Left” government which sees being “Left” as having a disconnected “wish list” policy agenda, of “nice things we want” , like a fully funded NHS, a nationalise railway system, free education for all, etc, etc, without a very well worked out comprehensive Left economic strategy, will be IMMEDIATELY blown off course . This is demonstrated by the (much better policy-rooted) 1964, Wilson Government , the 1984 Mitterrand Government trapped in the then EU monetary straightjacket, and of course Syriza , destroyed in months as a genuine Left Party, by the openly engineered “economic coup” of the Troika.

        This is so laughably obvious, so well documented by historical example, that the utter failure of the entire inner Corbyn Circle, after one year , to develop any aspect at all of an even ” 1980’s Bennite” level of Alternative Economic Strategy , is actually now reaching the seriousness of being a “Crime Against our Class” , rather than just an “unfortunate” consequence of the Labour Old Guard Left being so isolated for 30 years that it has become incapable of any strategic thinking at all.

        Only a truly internally democratic, Left policy developing, mass Momentum has any chance of rescuing the “Corbyn Left Surge” from its current dead-end stasis in liberal (and in some cases , peculiarly, ultraleft) disconnected “declamatory rhetoric “politics.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          Frankly, I’m rather shocked that a group of people who were allies of Benn, saw the failings of post-war social democracy, and should know what the capitalist class is capable of could end up being so devoid of concrete, radical policy. To paraphrase Jeremy Hardy, I’d love to get inside their heads–there would be so much room to stretch out.

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      I support the concept of ‘ceteris paribus’ or ‘presumed’ free movement, which would essentially mean that people can come to the UK unless there is a good reason why they should be denied entry.

      This would mean that the state would retain the right to exclude people, but there would need to be clear criteria for this – such as a terrorist, a criminal evading justice, or someone who presence in the UK could be deemed likely to be dangerous and harmful to society.

      Under such a regime, port and airport customs control remain in place, but there is no discrimination between people on the basis of their country of origin.

  10. David Pavett says:

    I have just come across Len McCluskey’s apparent alternative approach here .

    LM recognises that under capitalusm free movement is a problem. He argues that instead of speaking if management or controls we should speak of “safeguards”. His solution is that “any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining”.

    In other words LM is proposing that only unionised firms can recruit labour from abroad. Given that only abot 25% of UK workers are unionised this looks to like fantasy politics. Also LM doesn’t tell us about the right to stay of people who come here without a unionised job to go to.

    Despite its superficial attraction LN’s “alternative” solution is, in my view, just another way of not facing up to the issues.

    1. Verity says:

      The advantage from the domestic employers point of view for employing immigrant Labour is a combination of: cheaper costs; minimal training requirements; gratefulness in the acceptance of other unfavourable conditions, resulting in a more cooperative or compliant employee. McClustey’s demands would help offset some of the disadvantage if amongst (the largely) public sector workforce collective agreements became standard requirements for all companies beyond an employee number threshold, but it does nothing to help those potentially displaced new expectants in the domestic labour force, nor an attitude of higher expectations of what work offers. Investment in training to meet shortfalls at home would make a contribution to the former of these and perhaps something of the latter.

      I would not argue with the case that in some fields it is difficult to find domestic employees to makes the employer’s life easier – there may even be some (tiny) genuine skill shortages, although I suspect the latter is exaggerated and really refers to a compliance to perform under the established management ‘ways of doing things’.
      Some of this could be alleviated to the advantage of the domestic market if there was an established pro rata requirement for future training within those posts. As a for instance, for every overseas employee recruited (on account of a skill shortage) there would be a requirement for two apprentices to be recruited and attached to that, other suitable trainer. Alternatively funds transferred for another employer to do so. Where there is some savings to wage costs, there could be a requirement for the company to contribute to two state national insurance schemes for the replacement housing and for further investment for expansion of health and children’s education provision.

      I am not especially keen on these measures but it would party address the argument of the social investment consequences for the inward flow of labour. If the employer was required to show addition social contributions on the employees pay packet, the individual could gain of sense of social contributions, off – setting social contribution, given that several nations from which they come may not have social housing, school education absent of all payments, and no similar non contributory heath service, i.e migrants could potentially become a more readily accepted part of the contributors to current and future social provisions.

  11. Verity says:

    I had formerly seen Corbyn, the individual, as a liberal humanistic albeit (very, very, very radical). I found the descriptor of ‘philosophical idealism’ as very useful, which better describes this position. I will borrow this term if I can find an alternative word to ‘philosophical’. I had also thought of this view as taking the assumptions of an ‘advanced stage of communism’. I do find this as just one example of the ‘moral outrage’ that drives many of Labour responses to events and issues.

    Whilst some Labour supporters of the EU did present arguments for membership, I struggled with the dominate Labour supporter view of the EU as an idealised state of being, which I saw as overwhelmingly the more common. Even Momentum’s poll just had a 1/3 of its number failing to support UK membership. The EU is just one example of several areas where the Left struggles against idealism within its ranks and thereby fails to devise fundamental alternatives to the Blairist, come with us it, ‘can only get better’, mentality.

    YouGov surveyors have even built this thinking into its polling of the views of Labour supporters in their recent Labour Tribes poll. In asking Labour/former Labour supporters of their views on a number of issues they categorised those supporters by asking, ‘Which of the following do you think best reflects that the Labour Party should stand for’: ‘anti capitalist’; ‘representing the working class’; ‘building a fairer society’. A fault is possibly in that the categories are not mutually exclusive, but nevertheless they show an instructive weighting. 8% are found to be anti capitalist; 32% tend to the need, ‘for working class representation’; and 50% for ‘building a fairer society. Since nowhere do we explore the meaning of this fairer society’, it is likely that we can be persuaded by any ‘ideals’ that match with a liberal – humanistic perspective without ever having to analyse how this ‘vision’ can be achieved or what are the necessary components of a strategy to achieve this, ‘can only get better approach’. At a ‘personal – behavioural’ level it is more comfortable being part of more open, honest, better behaved politics, but we also need get a little beyond idealism and just behaving well, if we are going to win over many who just don’t get, or may not even believe us, when we refer ‘our ideals’.

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